“We’re Looking for Someone Who Can Put Their Own Spin On It”
“You Really Need an Improv Class”
Years ago, when coaching with my beloved mentor Fred Frees, every session was different and exciting. If I could have worked with him every day I would have. The characters that he helped me develop we exciting and fun and the hours that we spent via skype were some of the most thrilling of my life. Fred is a creative genius and one day when I was learning to scream as if being dragged by an alien pulling my away and never to return, Fred said I had to take improv. Despite months pf training and progress, he said that without an improv class he would not even consider setting a date for my character demo.
So, I overcame my fear of performing on stage and signed uo for the Advanced Acting and Improv class at Papermill Playhouse, our local theater. The class was taught by esteemed Broadway actress Elyssa Van Duyne and it challenged me in every way possible. From scripts like “Augusts of Osage County” that forced me to tap into anger, an emotion I do not enjoy, to exercises where we had to throw and catch a balloon while reciting our lines in different ways and somehow manage not to crash into each other. Every class brought out different weaknesses and struggles and revealed how much I had to learn, yet week after week I returned hungry to learn more. As professional actors, even as voiceover actors, if we do not continually work on our craft, we do not improve. This unique opportunity to leave my padded foam booth gave me a perspective I previously lacked as working with others on a stage is quite different than working alone in a very solitary space.
How did this effect my training with Fred? He heard a difference from the very first class on. One of the drills Fred would do was to ahve me run through my roster of characters that I created and read the script as different characters. Before the class I was reading them with the same pace and intonation, not varying the rhythm enough. This changed immediately. There was a freshness to my reads and I was able to connect with the copy in a very different way. While I would not have gone if Fred had not insisted, I am so thankful that he did! I believe that all professional voiceover actors benefit from improv training because we need to provide our clients, in all formats and genres, with alternate reads and options.
Daily Use of Improv
When I first did my training with Fred, I correctly assumed that the improv would help me in my character work. From toy demos to video game characters, the improv training that I have had has helped me bring fresh reads and passion to each character. I actually think the improv and fast response becomes a part of a voiceover actor’s innate response after years of doing it.
More and more often I am seeing commercial auditions posted that ask for talents who can adlib. Often during a guided session, clients will ask for something that is off script, and suddenly I find myself putting my improv skills to use. Sometimes even when staying on script completely, I find that my improv drives my commercial reads in that it enables me to give a totally unique second or third take. Again, in my experience improv is an asset to professional voiceover actors.
When I started doing work in radio imaging, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there is a space for improv there too. Whether it is with witty outtakes or sharp remarks, even imaging producers very much appreciate a voiceover actor for sweepers and liners who can ad lib on the spot. The challenge with imaging is understanding what is appropriate from format to format. A sarcastic quip that would draw a laugh on a Top 40 station would not be appropriate on an upbeat classic hits station.
Even in eLearning, the improv training comes in handy. Sometimes as a character in a training module, the instructional designer is looking for something different. They want their characters to be really believable. The risk taking and the ability to connect with the copy that comes with improv training will help with this even when sticking with the script.
Keeping that Edge
The more improv is requested, the more it needs to be practiced. It does get better the more you do it! There are local improv groups. There are also improv sessions and master classes at voiceover conferences. If you are thinking that you might need one, the answer is a resounding YESSSS!!!!